A standing-room-only crowd came to Fort Worth City Council Aug. 15 to discuss the new state immigration law. Brandon Wade Star-Telegram archives
A standing-room-only crowd came to Fort Worth City Council Aug. 15 to discuss the new state immigration law. Brandon Wade Star-Telegram archives

Bud Kennedy

Want to speak to the Fort Worth City Council? Sign up early, and keep it short

By Bud Kennedy

bud@star-telegram.com

September 21, 2017 07:08 PM

UPDATED September 21, 2017 07:19 PM

FORT WORTH

This City Council likes to talk, but does it listen?

Council members will hear less public comment under new rules adopted this week, and it took a last-minute save just to rescue residents’ right to respond to late changes.

Credit Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray with sticking up for the public. She pushed successfully for the council to set a 5 p.m. online sign-up deadline to speak.

That’s two hours before a 7 p.m. meeting. (The current deadline is 6:45.)

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At 5 p.m., some folks are still at work. Others can’t just stop and go online or call the city secretary — 817-392-6164 — about speaking that night.

But it could have been worse. City staffers originally discussed a 2 p.m. cutoff.

That would have ended sign-ups before council members had even begun working through their afternoon agenda discussion. No matter what council members changed that afternoon, it would have been too late to talk about it that night.

Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray at an Aug. 1 meeting.
Paul Moseley pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Gray, in her sixth year representing much of Riverside, Polytechnic Heights and Morningside, objected.

“There are things that happen during work session, and people would not have any opportunity to speak out that evening,” Gray said Thursday, calling the earlier time a “deal breaker.”

Not long ago, Fort Worth didn’t have a deadline at all. You just filled out a card or form.

I liked that. When residents come to City Hall, council members ought to find a way to hear them.

It is not a punishment to hear from your citizens. It is a privilege.

Lizzie Maldonado, a resident opposing new public comment limits.

The council went along with Gray’s plea. But council members also cut the time for a group’s spokesman to six minutes, and cut speakers’ three-minute limit to two on busy nights.

Two minutes is plenty of time to make a point.

But none of these changes made it easier to address the City Council. They all made it more restrictive.

That’s not the way government should be heading at any level, particularly not in a city with weak voter turnout and civic participation.

To speak to Fort Worth City Council, call the city secretary at 817-392-6164 or sign up online at fortworthtexas.gov/citysecretary/.

West-side political activist Lizzie Maldonado, one of a handful of opposing speakers, said as much.

“The rest of us have to organize by the hundreds to be heard,” she said.

“ … It is not a punishment to hear from your citizens. It is a privilege.”

If only more council members felt that way.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.

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